In last night’s game against the Edmonton Oilers, the Vancouver Canucks were down by one goal nearing the end of the second period, when Marco Sturm earned a small portion of his $2.25 million contract by forcing an offensive zone faceoff with 24 seconds left. Unsurprisingly, Alain Vigneault sent out his top line of Burrows and the Sedins in hopes of getting a late goal.
Since the Oilers were at home, they had the last change and Tom Renney could send out whoever he wanted. He smartly chose his veteran second line of Ryan Smyth, Shawn Horcoff, and Ryan Jones. Horcoff was the Oilers’ best man in the faceoff circle and took the majority of the defensive zone draws: so far, so good. He then made a baffling decision. For his defensive pair, he sent out his bottom pair of Andy Sutton and Corey Potter. This was not a good idea. Let’s explore why in pictures.
As you can see, it’s a pretty typical set up off the faceoff. I’ve circled Sutton and Potter: Sutton is on the boards facing Daniel Sedin. He has the unenviable task of trying to contain last season’s Art Ross winner. Potter is in front of the net: they’ve given the rookie playing in his first game with the Oilers the job of protecting the front of the net if the Canucks win the draw or retrieving the puck if the Oilers win the draw. So far, so good.
As soon as the puck drops, things start to go wrong almost immediately. Horcoff can’t quite win the draw cleanly, so Jones jumps in to help and sends the puck straight back. Normally, this would be great, but now Jones is not checking Burrows. This means Potter needs to pick up Burrows. Meanwhile, Daniel has already gotten inside position on Sutton and some over-confident Oilers fans head for the concessions.
Now the Oilers have a problem: they just don’t know it yet. Both Daniel and Burrows head straight for the puck. Since Daniel has inside position, Sutton accidentally takes him down. No penalty will be called on the play, but Sutton doesn’t know that yet. Meanwhile, Potter has second guessed where he should be going and has taken a step back towards the front of the net instead of stepping towards the puck to get position on Burrows.
Instead of going to the puck to get possession, Sutton throws his arms up in protest of a call that isn’t even being made. Simultaneously, Burrows has gained a step on Potter to get to the puck. Henrik identifies the situation and heads to the boards, while Horcoff and Jones seem undecided on who’s going to follow him there.
Potter recovers reasonably well from his previous indecision to knock Burrows off the puck and attempt to clear it. Reasonably well just won’t cut it against the Sedins, however. Since he’s locked in a battle with Burrows, he isn’t able to get much on the attempt. If he had been more decisive off the faceoff, he would have reached the puck with time to make a pass behind the net to Smyth. Sutton, caught flat-footed while looking to the referee, is several steps behind Daniel. Meanwhile, Jones is nowhere near Henrik.
Henrik easily cuts off the weak clearing attempt and has plenty of time and space with Jones bearing down on him like a septuagenarian. He rings the puck around the boards to Daniel behind the net who, you’ll notice, still has a step on Sutton. Also of note, Burrows is closer to the net than Potter is. This will be important later. And by later I mean in about 4 seconds. Two of the fans who were just heading for beer have noticed something is amiss.
Sutton had two choices: he could recognize that he had already lost position on Daniel and cut in front of the net to prevent him from bringing the puck out from the opposite side, or he could lunge at the puck, hoping to cut it off before it reached the younger Sedin. He chose…poorly. As soon as he makes that lunge, Sutton’s committed himself to chasing Daniel rather than positioning himself where Daniel can do the least damage. Smyth has vacated the front of the net to cover Edler, while Potter has completely lost Burrows. It’s possible that he expects Horcoff to pick him up instead.
The problem is that Horcoff just isn’t going to get there in time. Burrows has already taken a couple strides, while Horcoff was standing still, assuming that Potter wasn’t going to let Burrows beat him out of the corner. Behind the net, Sutton has made himself completely useless, as he doesn’t have a hope of getting to Daniel in time to stop the play that’s developing.
By the time Horcoff gets to Burrows, the winger already has his legs in position to prevent Horcoff from tying up his stick, which is on the ice, ready to tip in Daniel’s pass. If Corey Potter is a little quicker out of the corner, he could still reach Burrows in time to lift his stick. If Andy Sutton recognizes he’s lost Daniel and cuts in front of the net instead of chasing, he could prevent the pass. Instead, a faceoff win turns into a goal against in 8 seconds.
And that’s why you don’t send out your bottom defensive pair against the Sedins.
Tags: Alex Burrows, Analysis, Burrows, Canucks, Daniel, featured, Henrik, Oilers, Sedins